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Developing a passion is often associated with children with special needs or very gifted children; however, passion is a gift that all children, given the time, space and support can cultivate. Children will find their passion in something that inspires them, from music to sport, from campaigning to inventing. They may be passionate about astronomy or science, art, or trains. Whatever they alight upon, as parents, we need to be there to support them as much as we can.
The dangers in encouragement
There are dangers, however. In the developed world, where few of us are struggling to survive, parenting for some has become an exercise in turning our children into ‘stars’. This is epitomised in the focus on children developing a passion or passions. My question is why would they need help? Why wouldn’t each child, with the right time, space, opportunity, and support, be able to find their own passion(s), especially when help can so easily turn into at best interference and at worst pressure?
We all see life through our own needs wants and desires and because of this, it is almost impossible for that not to colour our attempts at help – or conversely to hinder. Are we helping because we want our children to find joy in their lives? Or are we helping because we want them to excel, to be seen as special, to leave others in awe of their abilities, to stand out in a crowd; fundamentally, to enable us to live vicariously through their successes?
Passion usually stems from an interest (or even a need) in something, which over time evolves into a passion. Each child will be different, will find and discard many interests until they fall upon the experience, which engenders that on-going joy, excitement, and enthusiasm.
Help not hinder, help not interfere
So how can we help without interfering? How can we, with our children’s best interests at heart, allow them to develop and pursue their own passions, not just force them to focus on something we believe might evolve into a career they can earn a good living at or become world renowned in? How can we support their shifting interests, whilst they go through their own self-discovery?
If we really want to help, we must accept that our passions may never be our children’s. We must also appreciate that their passions will generally evolve over time (although the kernel may be obvious very early on), allowing their exploration without pressure or limits to help them in their journey (or journeys) of self-discovery. We must temper any desire to push them in a certain direction and we must encourage them subtly and without an agenda. All our support and encouragement must be purely for their benefit, not ours.
Give them their head
We need to let them have the opportunity to make friends, play with ideas, experience new things, and learn from their mistakes. Most importantly they need to be given time to be bored. Boredom is a great way to galvanise them into doing something. Only then will they have the scope and experience to develop passions.
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When we think of children with passion, the young person most likely to spring to mind is Greta Thunberg. Whilst Greta is now 18, her activism started when she was 15 when she missed school to protest against climate change outside the Swedish parliament. With an obvious passion for creating change, as a person on the autistic spectrum, she has inevitably become famous for her direct communication when pointing out the ineffectiveness of governments in dealing with climate change. It can’t have been easy for her parents to support her, but support her they did, despite having reservations. Greta’s passion, with the unstinting backing of her parents, has transformed her from a frightened, bullied, and withdrawn child into a brave, confident, determined, and world renowned activist.
My name is Malala
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Greta is not the only child in whom courage blossomed out of passion. Malala Yousafzai was a 15 year old activist who was shot in the head by the Taliban on her way to school, in reprisal for her protests at the treatment of women and children in Pakistan. Miraculously she survived, waking up 10 days later in a hospital in Birmingham, where after months of surgery and rehabilitation she went on to make a full recovery. It was at this point according to her website, that she realised she had a choice: “I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given. I determined to continue my fight until every girl could go to school.” In recognition of her campaigning, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014 – at aged 17, becoming the youngest ever Nobel laureate. Malala continues her campaigning, which could not have been accomplished without the unstinting support of her parents and in particular her father.
In Pakistan, the birth of a daughter is rarely cause for celebration, however, Malala’s father had a more progressive outlook and was determined to give her the same opportunities as his sons. When asked about what he did for his daughter he replied: “Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings, and that’s all”; wise words for any parent to listen to.
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Passionate children are not just a modern phenomenon; incredible children have existed throughout history. One such is Louis Braille, who was just 15 when he developed the now universally used braille alphabet, which enables blind and partially sighted people to read by touch.
Braille was not born blind but became totally blind at the age of three as a result of an accident. Unusually for that time, Braille’s parents encouraged their son to be independent and to gain an education – despite facilities for the blind being non-existent. They encouraged him to learn to find his way around the village and surrounding countryside with canes made specifically for that purpose by his father. He attended the village school and at 10 years old, his diligence was rewarded by receiving a scholarship to the National Institute for Blind Youth (the first school of its kind) in Paris. It was here, frustrated by the limitations of the systems used to educate him that for three years (between the ages of 12 and 15) he created the braille we know today.
Braille became a teacher and an accomplished musician but given the time he grew up in, without the unstinting support from his parents, he could have just faded into obscurity.
The key to joy
From Mozart to Michael Owen, from the Williams Sisters to Tiger Woods, from Samantha Smith to Melati and Isabel Wijsen and so many more, we have remarkable children with passions that were enabled by the encouragement, support, and faith of their parents. Whilst for these world renowned children a passion has taken them on a trajectory in life, for most, finding a passion in childhood is the key to an on-going source of joy, stress relief, and escape.
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